Friday, June 03, 2016

1651 Happy Birthday to the 24 Hour News Cycle

Thirty six years ago this week, CNN went on the air for the first time and forever changed the way we get our news.  They laughed when owner Ted Turner flipped the switch to “on.”

It’ll never last. It’s too expensive.  What does this guy from Georgia think he’s going to do going up against the big boys of New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles? Line up to buy the fancy machinery, ‘cause Ted will be needing to sell it cheap and soon to pay off his loans.

Nope.  It was and is a howling success.  But in a way it helped cause a howling failure.

Turner didn’t invent the 24 hour news cycle, he just made it public.  The wire services -- they like to call themselves news agencies -- did that years ago.  But with a difference.  The AP, United Press and INS clacked away all day and all night every day and every night.  But their clientele wasn’t you, it was the editors and broadcasters at newspapers and radio and TV stations.

Only when passed through the hands of gatekeepers did you get to see, hear or read it.  Judgments could be made about content, placement and prominence. Now, everyone had access to the wire.

But 24 hours is a lot of time to fill.  And so it was filled as often as not with junk.  We got -- and get -- more than our share of car chases, school bus crashes, closed circuit renderings of convenience store robberies and -- eventually -- the invention of a whole new industry: Expert Windbaggery.

From out of the woodwork came the likes of every opinion holder on every subject on earth.  Since then, of course, the internet has fully democratized undocumented nonsense.  But thank CNN for creating the time filler and gainfully employing dozens if not hundreds of mouth-runners who might previously have had to settle for actual jobs.

How many self-appointed political, social, psychological, legal, criminal, military, and financial experts were there 36 years ago? Compare that to how many more there are now.  

Actually you can’t compare.  There’s absolutely no way to tell.  The only answers verging on accurate would be “lots” or “many” or “a boatload.”

And how illuminating are their proffered guesses?  Hard to tell.  Of course some are good and some less so.  And some are downright worthless.  But we really have no way to tell.

So is this all to say that CNN has spoiled the whole news barrel? Absolutely not.  But it and its imitators have stood coverage standards on ear (left ear for MSNBC, right ear for Fox, inner ear for itself and the rest.)

It has turned many wannabe journalists into wannabe TV stars.  It has widened the gap between content and presentation.  No small trick.

The internet has, too.  And that may not be a good thing.  The internet has wrecked the news industry’s business model. And without that, it’s not just magazines and newspapers that are reeling, it’s you.

Why?  Because print is still the chief form of discovering and/or uncovering facts.  TV and the internet do not have the resources and even if they did wouldn’t know how to use them well.

Ad revenue is a bigger engine of democracy than you might have imagined.


Today’s Quote: “Others are doing it. So we thought we should too.” -- NY Times reporter Philip B. Corbett on why his paper has made the momentous decision to lowercase “internet” which it had previously insisted be capitalized.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2016

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